Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some good memories of 2011

Although my camera lives in my bag, I am not very good at actually remembering to take pictures, especially when I am out in the world and with people, but here are some moments from this year that were captured and that (I think) I haven't posted before.

Swimming naked here:

Lots of walks and runs in my neighbourhood:


Birthday picnic interrupted by showers and transferred to the car:

Private concerts:

Two weddings -

my little sister's:


and a dear friend's:

Climbing mountains (still smiling at the bottom):

Putting on our children's show with my favourite storyteller:

Spending quite a bit of time on boats:

just the two of us for a spontaneous weekend trip,

for island visits with my older sister + husband,

and with the honeymooners:

The kindness of people in the college, manifest in our office:

I lost my fear of public speaking this year (at least the utter sense of panic), was healthier than ever, ended a pattern of destructive relationships and drama and committed fully to my current relationship (and have been very lucky that he was so patient and forgiving), started seeing a counsellor again, stopped caring so much what others think, decluttered and organised the hell out of my entire life (slightly exaggerating), indulged my obsession with silk, joined the pool again, discovered green smoothies, grew my collection of essential oils, spent more time with my family,  and painted and crafted not as much as I would have liked, but enough to feel I am back in the creative zone.

These are some of the good things from this year, from my own personal bubble. There were lows and losses, too, but they shall remain private for the most part. Certain things still hurt, and I am still learning from some of them. These last days of the year are for reflection, and I haven't even begun to order my thoughts. 

I had plans and intentions for this year - some materialised, others didn't, but I won't beat myself up; I make them to guide me, not to dominate me. More on that soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Christmas at my family's house is more wabi-sabi than magazine perfection.

Case in point: headless crib figurines

I like wabi-sabi.

Regarding the tree, the priority is that it is cat-safe (as is the case with just about everything else in the house; one of the cats has figured out how to open the bread bin), but we still have real candles (lit only when somebody is in the room):

In the past every single ornament we had (and we have hundreds) would go on the tree, but in recent years it has become more minimalistic. The baubles are glass ones we painted when we were younger, and my mum made the straw stars.

Over the next few days things might be a bit chaotic here, as I'm trying to solve some technical problems (to do with two different Google accounts) and update a few elements. In case I don't post again before January I want to thank you all for reading and wish you a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Coming home for Christmas

 Santas running - in Ireland, not Germany

I arrived in Germany on Sunday. I come here twice a year for three or four weeks. It always feels strange coming home to my old home, and then also going back home to Ireland. I would prefer to see my family more times during the year even if that meant shorter visits, but this makes more sense, and I am so grateful I can do it.

The reason I am able to spend such large chunks of time here is because my work in the college is not full-time. Which doesn't mean that I don't work while I am here - there are commissions and then my own work, and with so much time on my hands I am able to dedicate several hours a day to creating. And with my laptop I can work from anywhere in the world. So far I haven't done any work, though; it always takes me a few days to settle in.

I got a bad cold just before I left Ireland (just when it had struck me that I hadn't had a single cold all year), so the journey was a bit miserable, but I wore lots of layers (being stuck in an airport last year taught me to wear more clothes), and the lavender oil I always carry with me helped me to sleep a bit on the plane - I rub it on my temples, the back of my neck and my wrists and it becomes a protective cocoon of calm.

We had snow on Tuesday, but now it is just wet. Yesterday I wrapped up and went for a half-hour run, and it was actually perfect running weather - I didn't mind the rain at all. Until I realised that there's a huge hole in one of my trainers. No wonder, they must be at least five years old - I left them here when I was about to get new ones in Ireland. The years go by so fast and whenever I come back here it hits me that both people and things have got older.

So once Christmas is over I will buy a new pair of trainers and leave them at my mum's house. Since I spend so much time here I figured it is easier to just get certain items twice and leave one here, especially when it comes to running gear, cosmetics and art materials. It has taken me all this time to establish some sort of routine. In the past travelling was always haphazard and chaotic. I must admit, I have been doing this for nine years -I moved to Ireland in 2002-, but only recently have I started to find ways to make it all go more smoothly. I guess I never thought about it much, but now I like to have certain routines so I can focus on the important things.

I wish I could just travel with hand luggage and be free, and I am getting closer to that ideal: this time my suitcase was five kg lighter than in the summer, and this was with heavier winter clothes and including presents! I did bring books, the ones I am currently reading, even though there is no need really, as my mum's house is full of books, so there is no shortage of reading material and unexpected discoveries.

I have come home to huge soft square pillows (Matt reckons this is a German thing), Christmas cookies, Lebkuchen and Stollen, the darker, melancholy landscape with dense fairytale forests and creeks, and precious time with my family. Every visit I appreciate it more.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Real books

I have bought a good few novels recently. During my last decluttering episode I decided to get rid of a number of novels, the ones I was sure I wouldn't read again. I thought I would try to mostly borrow novels from the library instead of buying them. And, if I were to buy any, then there are charity shops, bookcrossing, and passing them on to friends or family.

I don't want to start reading on a kindle. It may be great for travelling, and the minimalist in me likes the idea, but I love physical books -their smell, look and tactility, even the sound of turning pages- too much. I like being able to open a different page to check something while still having the current page open, to have it all there at once, not just one page at a time.

I don't see books as visual clutter, as filled bookshelves can look very decorative, but I don't like the idea of "dead" books - books that sit there never to be read again, when someone somewhere might like to read them. So generally that is my criteria - those books have to go.

The reason I did buy piles of novels again, without knowing whether I would like them enough to reread, is that they were beautiful. There are several books I own that I display as works of art, and I don't tire of looking at them. And I love dandelion seed heads, so I had to get the hardback edition of The Sense of an Ending (I also had heard great things about it).

Apparently making visually beautiful books is big right now (I love that Barnes thanked his book designer in his Booker acceptance speech), when e-readers are becoming more popular, in the same way that in recent years a lot of musicians have released CDs in elaborate packages, with extensive booklets and extra material, as an answer to the rise of digital music.

Now that I think of it, I don't have many ugly books. I don't like neon colours, and sometimes I find bright-orange spines with black and white writing a bit too much. I don't like it when a non-chick-lit book gets the chick-lit treatment (including a swirly candy-coloured font and often some cringeworthy illustration of The Modern Woman), and I was very disappointed when I saw what one English edition has done to Pippi Longstocking (it involved glitter on the cover, and Pippi looked sort of sexualised). But most of the books I own I actually really like the look of.

So perhaps I will never be a minimalist when it comes to books and instead will end up with the big library I used to dream of having one day, dust and all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Out of the rut



Lately I have been thinking a lot about how hard it is to make certain decisions. I have been struggling with getting it right. On the one hand I realise I need to learn to say no more often, because my inability to do so has landed me in all kinds of trouble in the past and keeps making my life difficult and more stressful than necessary; but on the other hand I feel I sometimes have to push myself and say yes to more things - that perhaps I try to avoid too many social situations (because I often feel awkward), for instance, or other challenging, frightening things. It's about finding some kind of equilibrium between being Marina and making an effort, stepping out of my comfort zone. I wish I were able to instinctively know which situation calls for which approach, but I guess it's not that easy.

Sometimes I feel a nudge, though. After a row of days of the same routine, I know it's probably good to say yes to something that comes my way. One small example from last week: it was a rather unstructured day and I was very close to just going home after work, like on all other days that week, where I would then probably procrastinate and feel lethargic and go to bed early. That had suited me fine all week - I am in hibernating mood. But on Friday, after hesitating and resisting at first, I followed my friend's suggestion to go into town and to an exhibition.

My workplace is quite close to town, a ten-, 15- minute walk, yet if often seems too overwhelming a prospect to me, especially in the colder months. I might feel achey and tired, and not in the mood for rain and wind and dodging fellow pedestrians and cars, the bustle of an -admittedly small- city. [Oh, and at this time of the year, the pre-Christmas mayhem.]

But I did make it into town, walking in the fading light, and it was exactly what I needed. The studio sale was in one of the most picturesque parts of the city (see photos), which I don't frequent nearly enough, the work exhibited was beautiful (and we bought a few pieces for the university's collection), and I watched the night fall on the water, with velvety, rich shades of blue. It all injected energy and joy into an otherwise unremarkable string of days.

Friday, December 9, 2011

So many good books...

...and so little time. Being aware of the abundance of good reads that is out there carries a bittersweet tone for me, as it is a reminder of how short life is and that a lifetime is not enough to read all the books I want to read. Browsing bookshops, though one life's greatest pleasures, I often get this visceral sense of panic at the brevity of life. But I digress.

Particularly around this time of year so many good new titles come out. The Guardian's Review section and I are inseparable on a Saturday, and it is one of my main sources of book recommendations. While I sometimes have a problem with critics (particularly when they are downright nasty and have the power to destroy an artist, or when a book/film/CD/artwork is graded. After all, so much of it is subjective - any individual's opinion reflects their individual taste), I love the mostly thoughtful reviews and the palpable enthusiasm of the favourable ones in Review.

Here are some of the books that are currently on my to-read list (just noticed a heavy leaning towards memoirs here) :

Blue Nights by Joan Didion: I read her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking about her husband's death, and this is about their daughter's death shortly after. Certainly no easy read. Grief memoirs have taken a beating recently, but I think Didion's are an exception and among the more powerful ones.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson:  I actually haven't read any of her books, only some essays and articles, which I loved. The latest was an excerpt from this memoir, and it was beautifully written. I wonder whether I should read one of her novels first; I tend to read a writer's fictional output before reading the life, the background story (in the same way that I prefer to read the book before seeing a movie version), but it can be interesting to do it the other way around, approaching the fiction with that prior knowledge of what shaped it. And of course art and life are intrinsically linked.

Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend by Diana Athill: I like her style. I also want to get her book about ageing, Somewhere Towards the End. I love reading books by or about older people, their insights, their wisdom, invariably finding it all reassuring, comforting, somehow; it alleviates my own fear of getting older and death.

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan (written a decade ago, but has been reissued recently): About a model, perception, seeing and being seen. I focused on aesthetics when studying Philosophy and am obsessed with writings -fiction as well as non-fiction- about seeing and looking.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: I loved The Virgin Suicides (still haven't read Middlesex), and I really enjoyed this interview with Adam Thirlwell.

Clicking on each book cover will take you to the author's website, a review or the book's amazon page (I also always link the book under "Currently reading" in the sidebar. No affiliate links or anything!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wavy weave

I keep learning new things about knitting. The latest is nice and lazy - an open weave that's very fast to knit. I found it through a pattern on the yarn ball band of the berry-coloured wool in the second picture.

You knit wrapping the yarn around the needle twice for every stitch (i.e. in between stitches). In the next row you drop the extra wraps from the previous row, and so on. I like the light weight and the wave-like appearance. I used the blue wool for a thin short scarf and made a cowl with the other wool by knitting a scarf and joining the ends.

Whenever I saw a knit like this I used to think it had been made with gigantic needles... Now that mystery has been solved!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Light and bright november

It has a bad reputation, but this year it was not at all oppressive. I quite liked November.

Proof of the light-filled days:

Granted, in the last picture the sun was struggling. There were days of all-blue skies, too, but I love the drama of the changing weather patterns in this part of the world.

December started with rain, but thankfully no ice. Today was the first time I thought it a remote possibility to wear a winter coat and threw it on the backseat in the car before I headed out (spending the weekend at Matt's while he is out of the country). I recently read some advice that advocated not making more than three plans for the weekend, otherwise you could end up over-scheduling. I do the latter all the time and wonder why I feel overwhelmed. It has been so freeing to apply that 3-plans "rule". Of course I don't adhere to it rigidly. But no more than three things are planned in advance (as in before the weekend), and then I can spontaneously throw in some more arrangements if I feel like it. It is nice to have long stretches of time to myself, to do with as I please. This weekend's plans so far are a work party and meeting a friend for a walk. Yesterday evening was spent reading, knitting and thinking up recipes and going to bed ridiculously early, after a week of rising at 6.30 to go swimming before work. My body is hurting, in a good way, and I think I will have a rest day tomorrow.